Friday, December 11, 2015

Guest post by Guy Page on Decommissioning Advisory Panel

NDCAP Advisory Opinions
Preserving the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Fund
            By: Guy Page                   

On November 12, 2015, the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) held its first public discussion regarding four NDCAP-sourced advisory opinions about controversial aspects of Vermont Yankee decommissioning. The full text of each opinion appears on the NDCAP website. The following comments about each opinion are made with regard to the prompt, safe decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

Advisory Opinion #1, Engaging Host Communities

Authored by the Windham Regional Commission (WRC), this opinion recommends “that an organization such as the National Association of Development Organizations be supported to convene host communities to inform federal policy” by documenting the local experience of past decommissions, assessing community impacts of deferred vs. non-deferred decommissioning, and forming a Host Community Decommissioning Task Force to provide local government insight to the NRC. On this opinion there are two areas of concern:

Fair Representation: At the public hearing, discussion immediately focused on the definition of “host community.” A longtime Vermont Yankee opponent insisted on no special preference for Vernon, the physical host of VY and its strongest supporter. A Vernon panelist noted in response that Vernon will be more impacted than any other community by decommissioning decision making. NDCAP needs to ensure that any new organization fairly and equally represents the actual needs of the host communities, and therefore must not be influenced by political or ideological interests.

Financial Support: WRC should clarify: does “supported by” mean financial support? And if so, who pays? The logical choice would be the communities themselves, because they are presumably acting in their own interests. No funding support plan should involve the Decommissioning Trust Fund (DTF). For this reason Entergy, too, should not be billed, because it would likely submit this expense for reimbursement to the DTF as a cost of decommissioning.

Unless these two issues can be satisfactorily resolved, the responsibility of advising the NRC on behalf of host communities should continue to rest with the individual communities, the NDCAP, and the State of Vermont.

Advisory opinion #1 was approved November 12 with minor changes. The three remaining opinions await public discussion.

This opinion argues for the elimination of groundwater testing for extremely low concentrations of radiation, as adopted by the State of Vermont in 2014 per a new testing laboratory contract, because it no longer promotes public health or safety. Expensive testing that was valid during the tritium releases and when the reactor was operating is now unnecessary and redundant. Wherever possible, redundant, expensive measures that have outlived their usefulness should be eliminated.

The spent fuel opinion would abandon the proposal for a second fuel storage pad (Pad II) adjacent to the current pad, now before the Vermont Public Service Board, in favor of another more distant pad. The opinion alludes to several past statements by Entergy legal counsel and the Public Service Board suggesting that when the intensive physical work of decommissioning begins (possibly in 2032), a third pad may be necessary. The opinion suggest saving time and money over the long haul by building it now. 

Saving time and money is essential to the prompt, safe decommissioning of Vermont Yankee. That’s why Entergy’s plan for Pad II should proceed. The permitting process alone for another new pad would be time-consuming and expensive. The geological and soil-testing standards and testing are extremely rigorous. Therefore, it is not certain that an approved third pad will be available, much less needed. Meanwhile Vermont Yankee wishes to move the spent fuel into dry cask storage on the proposed Pad II as early as 2017. Most agree that dry casks are the safest, most secure onsite storage configuration. While the fuel pool storage is satisfactory and NRC-approved, Windham County would prefer dry cask storage. It should also be noted that the sooner the fuel is loaded into dry casks, the sooner it can be made transportable, should the federal government finally fulfill its three-decade old promise to claim spent fuel from all reactors nationwide.

In short, the sooner spent fuel can be safely moved into dry casks on adjacent pads, the better.

The final opinion would require continued funding for the Radiological Emergency Funding Plan (RERP) past its scheduled expiration date in 2016, with the scope of the plan and its cost to be determined by the State of the Vermont and the impacted towns. This also includes Department of Health independent (and redundant) monitoring at the site through the SAFSTOR or dormancy years.

The risk of radioactive exposure now is less than when VY was operating, and will decrease as the years pass. Therefore, funding should be scaled to the varying level of risk. However, VTEP asserts the State of Vermont should not oversee the scope and cost of the ongoing emergency planning, for the following reasons:

1)      Nuclear safety must remain the prerogative of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is a matter of settled law that the State of Vermont has unsuccessfully challenged once before. The State of Vermont and its communities may and should inform, advise and request, but they must not assume any safety-related decision making authority. The NRC has a seasoned staff of independent safety experts and a strong safety record and should continue to hold responsibility for safety oversight at the plant.

In the current and future safety environment, the recommended level of emergency response is unnecessary and overly-expensive. Even though the reactor will be empty and cold, and spent fuel slowly decaying in the fuel pool and dry casks, this opinion would maintain 12 of the 13 RERP emergency response capabilities suitable for an operating nuclear power plant. Furthermore, the State of Vermont and the towns surrounding Vermont Yankee might regard “emergency” funding as a budget-plugging windfall. In fact, Entergy Vermont Yankee will be at about 20% of its operating staff which is largely based on the reduced risk and soon-to-be NRC-approved Emergency Plan changes. 

2)      Decommissioning would be delayed. This opinion is in conflict with the State’s insistence that unnecessary spending be limited so that the DTF may accrue. According to one Vermont Yankee estimate, continuing the RERP would cost $120 million over a six-year period. As this large sum would almost certainly be withdrawn from the DTF, decommissioning would be significantly delayed.

It is important to note that Entergy representatives have repeatedly told NDCAP their company’s reason for business is energy generation, not plant decommissioning. The company’s stated, primary goal for Vermont Yankee isn’t profit, but safe, prompt decommissioning and site restoration. In support of this commitment, Entergy entered into a time-saving Master Settlement Agreement, submitted the PSDAR well before deadline, arranged a $145 million line of credit to streamline spent fuel management, has proposed to move fuel into dry casks by as soon as 2017, and is $5 million under budget in its aggressive campaign to close down non-radiological systems and buildings.

The Vermont Energy Partnership ( is a diverse group of more than 90 business, labor, and community leaders committed to finding clean, affordable and reliable electricity solutions. Its mission is to educate policy makers, the media, businesses, and the general public about why electricity is imperative for prosperity, and about the optimal solutions to preserve and expand our electricity network. Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee, is a member of the Vermont Energy Partnership.

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